Early French traders knew this area as Gross Point, so called for the large top of land that jutted out into Lake Michigan here. Among the first settlers at Grosse pointe was New Jersey native Maj. Edward H. Mulford, who purchased 160 acres in 1836 and build a cabin, later erecting a tavern along the Green bay Trail. The tavern, called Ten Mile House, was also used as a post office and a courtroom; Mulford served as postmaster and justice of the peace. Before long, a number of others settled in the Gross Pointe area and a small community known as Ridgeville evolved.
The face of Ridgeville, changed forever in 1855, after nine Methodist Church leaders founded a new university on a 379-acre farm facing Lake Michigan. They platted the land for the school as well as for a surrounding town, which they named Evanston after on of the nine founders, Dr. John Evans. Northwestern University opened in November 1855. Its first building, later called Old College, contained a chapel, tow meeting rooms, several classrooms, and a few attic spaces that served as dorm rooms. Over the next 150 plus years, the school became one of the most respected research universities in the nation. Also built on the campus was a Methodist seminary, Garrett Biblical Institute, now called Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, established 1853.
Evanston was incorporated as a town in 1863 and as a city in 1872. Because the school’s charter stipulated that no liquor be sold within a four mile radius of the campus, Evanston remained dry fo more than a century. Local laws prohibited alcohol until 1972. When the sale of spirits was allowed in restaurants; the sale of packaged liquor was permitted eleven years later.
Because of its rocky coast, Evanston was never a port city. Ships on Lake Michigan had to navigate past the hazardous shoals along the city’s shoreline to enter the narrow channel that led to the harbor at Chicago. After nearly thirty shipwrecks occurred here, including the 1860 collision of the freighter Augusta with the passenger steamer Lader Elgin, in which more than hour hundred lives were lost, the public clamored for a lighthouse to be build to warn ships of the danger. Finally in the 1870s, the Grosse Pointe Lighthouse was built. The structure, which soon became an Evanston icon, operated well into the twentieth century and still functions as a secondary navigational aid. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1999. The Lady Elgin shipwreck site, near Highwood, was placed on the NRHP the same year.
Over the years, Evanston has evolved as an epicenter of not only education but also culture, dining, shopping, and architecture. The city’s tree lined streets about with historic buildings. Besides the Grosse point Lighthouse, Evanston contains more than fifty other sites on the NHRP and four National register Historic Districts.
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